W Series to stay on Channel 4 for 2021 season

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Jamie Chadwick of Great Britain in action. - REUTERS
Jamie Chadwick of Great Britain in action. - REUTERS

Channel 4 has announced it will continue its coverage of the all-female single-seater W Series for the championship’s 2021 season.

Organisers of the women’s motorsport series have confirmed that the channel will show all eight races of the season, which will be the championship’s first supporting Formula One.

W Series was the second most-watched women’s sport in the UK behind football in 2019 when Channel 4 showed live coverage of the inaugural season, which was won by Britain’s Jamie Chadwick.

All six races of that maiden W Series season were shown live, with the championship broadcast in some 340 million households across more than 100 different countries.

Confirmation that the series will stay on free-to-air will provide a significant boost for the championship, which was forced to shelve its entire 2020 season after the pandemic hit.

Catherine Bond Muir, the chief executive of W Series, said: “Live free-to-air motorsport coverage is rare, but our partnership with Channel 4 is a key part of W Series’ plan to create more visible role models to inspire girls and women to be a part of motorsport, whether that is on track, on screen or behind the scenes, and the expertise and insight provided by our brilliant commentary team will be instrumental to our efforts.”

In line with its mission to promote diversity in motorsport, W Series’ on-screen commentary team will consist of equal numbers of women and men, among them the Formula One presenter Lee McKenzie and 13-time Grand Prix winner, David Coultard.

Naomi Schiff, a professional racing driver who took part in the inaugural season of W Series, is also part of the eight-strong team as an analyst, with Billy Monger, the double leg amputee British racing driver, announced as a co-commentator.

Analysis: Channel 4's continuation of its W Series partnership is latest shot in the arm for women's sport

When the landmark announcement came last November that the W Series would play a supporting role in Formula 1 at eight events in 2021, there was uncertainty whether such mirroring would extend to a broadcast deal.

Confirmation, then, that the W Series will continue to be shown on terrestrial TV will be a huge source of relief for female racing drivers, many of whom have been deprived of visibility ever since the entire 2020 season was scrapped because of the pandemic.

To put the wait for the return of the all-female motorsport series into context, when pre-season testing for this year’s championship got underway at Anglesey Circuit in North West Wales last week, it came a whole 645 days after Britain’s Jamie Chadwick made history as its first champion in 2019.

Wednesday's announcement sparks fresh hopes the championship can double its 2019 reach, an aim that has been set by its chief executive, Catherine Bond Muir. It is an ambitious target, albeit not unrealistic one, given the recent buy-in from free-to-air broadcasters across women’s sport.

Channel 4’s announcement comes less than a week after the BBC announced it would broadcast every match of next year’s Women’s Six Nations and the final of rugby league's Women's Challenge Cup being shown live for the first time next month on BBC Two. That both rugby codes are still fully amateur lends itself to a wider question: could this be the start of a post-pandemic revival for women's sport on free-to-air television?